Money was scarce when I was ten. An ‘allowance’ was not a part of my parent’s parenting theory. They were firmly in the ‘pay-for-performance’ camp. And there was too little of either – pay or performance. The few chores my father considered pay-worthy were indexed to his Depression era pay scales.
If I was going to make any serious coin, I would have to look elsewhere. But without a mower, my options were limited. While there were always the odd neighbor jobs – moving gravel piles, feeding dogs, and clearing kudzu. These were hit-or-miss. Collecting glass Coke bottles from the roadside for a nickel each was my only reliable source of income. In those days we were less conscious of the moral duty not to throw trash on the roadsides, so this was surprisingly profitable.
I was careful with what I earned. A tenth to church, half to savings, and the rest to 7Eleven. On summer days, neighborhood kids, young and old, would mount their spider-bikes and trek to the 7Eleven up on the highway. I’m sure our parents assumed there was safety in numbers. But looking back, I’m not so sure. But as old-timers are apt to say, “times were different then.”
Topps baseball cards, packs of candy Marlboro cigarettes, and Now-or-Laters were always in the bag. And righteousness could not be fulfilled without a Cherry Coke Slurpee and its accompanying spoon-straw. But my go-to item was the giant SweetTart. Unlike chewy ones sold today, vintage giant SweetTarts were hard and looked like enormous dishwasher tablets. Only as the tart gave way to the sweet could you even open your eyes. Eating too many would make your tongue raw for days. They were intense – the mother of all complex candy flavors.
But it was that complexity, sweet and sour, that made them so good. Many of the joys of life depend upon a mixture of extremes. Our loves often offer both pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, discomfort and comfort. We even see this in the Bible and the gospel. Before we can accept God’s mercy, we must accept that we deserve only His condemnation. The gospel does not make good men better, it saves the unsavable. The words of the Old Testament prophet, Hosea, are poignant.
Come, let us return to the Lord;HOSEA 6:1-2
for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.
The Bible is both sweet and sour. Paul described it as “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16) The Bible speaks sweetly of mercy, but everywhere reminds us that this mercy comes through the bitterness of judgment poured out on Christ. Those who reject this find that the gospel’s sweet promises bear bitter fruit in unbelief.
John’s vision in Revelation 10 underscores this. Judgements unfold against those without the seal of the living God. The church is excluded, yet still present in the world. What is her role? In the interlude between the Sixth and Seventh Trumpets, John sees a vision directed to the church. He is instructed to take a little scroll and to eat it. Though sweet in the mouth, it is bitter in his stomach. And in this vision, we have a picture both of the nature of the gospel and of our duty to proclaim it.
Acts of God’s judgement are raining down on the unbelieving world. But judgement alone will never bring men to repentance. Without the kindness of God in the gospel, they will only be hardened. Like a lamp on a stand, the church shines the kindness of God into a world that knows only the bitterness of the fall. The gospel is sweet, but first it is sour. The truth sets men free, but first it makes them mad. It exposes their condition before applying the remedy. It wounds, then heals. It tears, then binds up. It is sweet in the mouth and bitter in the stomach.
How willing are we to proclaim this sweet-and-sour gospel? Every person deserves God’s wrath and curse. This horror should ignite a sense of urgency. Those you love, those you serve, those who serve you, who are not sealed through faith in Christ, will fall under horrific judgements. They will seek for death and not find it. And when it comes, it will not relieve. Their only hope is the sweet-and-sour gospel. How willing are you to say hard things to soften hard hearts? Leon Morris puts this into perspective.
“The true preacher of God’s Word will faithfully proclaim the denunciations of the wicked it contains. But he does not do this with fierce glee. Telling forth of ‘woes’ will be a bitter experience…. The wickedness of man grieved God at His heart (Genesis 6:6), and the true preacher of God’s Word enters to some degree into this suffering.”LEON MORRIS, REVELATION.
God’s Word can be bitter, but it is also sweet. Jesus has the keys to Death and Hades and gives these gospel keys us. But will we use them? Join us this week as we examine Revelation 10 and consider our calling to share the gospel boldly.